Printing is one of the photography topics that is frequently ignored. Admittedly, we all print far fewer photographs than we make. Although the idea of seeing them only in prints seems ancient, once upon a time, boys and girls, that's how it was - you had prints, negatives, and slides. I know, hard to believe. What's more, if you wanted to share them, you had to put them into someone's hands. Inconceivable.
Notwithstanding the significant changes in technology, Ansel Adam's analogy about printing is as profound today as it was in 1950 when his book The Print was first published.
"...the negative is similar to a musician's score, and the print to the performance of that score.
The negative comes to life only when 'performed' as a print."
High resolution screens on desktop, laptop, tablet, and phone have made viewing photographs both portable and convenient; however, to be truly appreciated, photographs should still be printed. Whether put in a large format, framed, and hung on a wall or in a size that can be held in your hands, printing makes a photograph real. Tangible. Just like in olden times.
Re-reading The Print over the summer renewed my interest in making my own prints (again) and I quickly discovered that I love the process and the magic of seeing my images appear on paper as much as ever. I also learned a few lessons that are rarely discussed.
Lesson #1 - Ink - Despite the FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) that inkjet manufactures would have you believe, there are great third-party inks available which cost about 1/3 of the OEM ink (I did the math). And no, Virginia, high quality third-party ink will not damage your printer or cause clogs (but your printer might not recognize the non-OEM cartridge, so check this carefully). Clogs are caused by ink drying in the printhead after the printer has sat idle for weeks and months since the last print was made.
Lesson #2 - Paper - There are lots of paper choices to consider from both printer manufacturers as well as third-party suppliers - Hahnemühle (Germany), Innova Art (UK), Epson, Canon, HP, and many others. Whether you choose gloss, luster, matte, or art paper is part of your creative process. Knowing how they will affect the final print is a learning experience. Ignore the FUD here too. Use the paper that pleases you and that your printer can handle (they are not all equal). You will be fine. Paper suppliers that have ICC profiles available for your printer will help you match your image to the gamut of your printer and paper (more in the Post Script).
Lesson #3 - Cost of Printing - A 12x18 made on luster paper with an Epson Stylus Pro 3800 is estimated to have a $1.63 OEM ink cost. This is a fixed cost. The cost of 13x19 paper is a variable cost and can easily range from $1 to $5/sheet (or more). Not factored in are the "oops" events that require reprinting, as well as the maintenance of the printer.
Lesson #4 - Lightroom Print module is fabulous. Creating presets for paper size, page setup, and print is a real advantage for the next time you print a 12x18 photograph on 13x19 paper and you can't remember how you set it up. Whether you have your printer manage color gamut or use printer profiles, Soft Proofing will help you make edits for printing. More to follow on this...
Lesson #5 - Creativity and Impact - Ansel Adams was right - "The negative comes to life only when 'performed' as a print." The print is as important as the camera or the negative. It not only completes the process but, as the final act of the three part play (I also considered using metaphors based on trilogy, triptych, and the trinity, but passed on them), it can be placed in the hand or admired on the wall (while we gab on about our gear and vision). Printing makes a photograph come alive. Like bookbinding or making photographs with film, printing may seem to be slipping into the past and it may already be considered anachronistic, but imagine going into a gallery and having artists display their work on a tablet or a large LED screen. Inconceivable.
Choosing paper type, weight, and paper source to complete your vision is as paramount as the considerations of light, focal length, aperture, ISO, focus point, or post-processing choices. The print completes your visualization and makes the photograph a tangible reality - something that can be seen with nothing more than your eyes. No further tech required.
One more thing...
Seeing your print come out of the paper feeder rivals watching the image appear in the developing tray.
Pure magic. Every time.
Thanks for reading.
See ya next week,
Post Script - photo geek alert
Gamut in an image refers to the color range and tones (sometimes referred to as 'color space') that your printer is capable of creating. Despite the advances and improvements in current inkjet technology and capability, printer gamut ≠ display gamut. Printer gamuts vary from printer to printer, which is why an accurate color profile for your printer, ink, and paper will help you softproof and print.
Before you even consider having a print made, whether from a nifty printer in your studio or a lab, calibrate your monitor. This is not optional. It is essential.
The ICC profile for your printer, and specifically for the paper you are using, will help you determine gamut performance. Before you commit to ink and paper, incorporate softproofing as part of your post-processing work flow.